The life of an entrepreneur is no walk in the park. But that also doesn’t mean that it can’t be a fruitful one. So how does one nurture entrepreneurship? Well, that’s what we were about to discover. The Sri Lanka Export Development Board along with SLASSCOM, FITIS, and ICTA organized the Southern IT-BPM Week 2018 from 4th and 5th September 2018 in Matara.
The ICT/BPM industry is one of the key focus sectors of the National Export Strategy (NES) and one of the mandates of SLASSCOM is to nurture regional startups and promote regional entrepreneurship. The Southern IT-BPM Week 2018 is the very first program under the National Export Strategy initiative to develop regional entrepreneurship skills.
The main objectives of the programme are to drive export growth through innovation and entrepreneurship and to improve the supply of skilled highly qualified professionals to satisfy the growing IT-BPM market with special focus on University undergraduates and local entrepreneurs in the Southern Province.
Kicking off the day’s proceedings, we had Saman Maldeni – Director of Export Services at the Sri Lanka Export Development Board addressing the gathering. Saman explained that the reason for organizing an event of this nature was to nurture the IT skills of undergraduates and also to inspire entrepreneurs to reach international markets.
The role of the EDB in entrepreneurship
We got a breakdown of the IT sector from Ravindhi Ranaraja – Assistant Director – Export Services Division. She detailed that over the past 10 years, the IT-BPM industry in Sri Lanka has grown by 300%, reaching a US 1.2 Billion in Revenue.
This has also lead to a workforce of more than 80,000 IT professionals and the number grows on an annual basis. Ravindi then went on to explain the various ways that entrepreneurs can apply for loans via the EDB.
What is Ingenuity?
This was what Sachindra Samararatne – Program Manager at ICTA was on stage to talk about at Southern IT-BPM Week 2018. Using humorous examples of how we would study in school, Sachindra explained that ingenuity is doing something with the minimum effort whilst also at the same time trying to get the maximum benefits.
The life of an entrepreneur begins by having that urge or inspiration to think like one. Once you develop that urge to do something or make a change in society, people often are confused about where to seek information from. To this, Sachindra explained that the internet is the first place you can start off with. There’s a vast ocean of information related to what you need. You just need to know how to look for it.
You can look up an idea that you have and see if someone else has done it. If they have, then you can see what they did right and wrong and build your product to emphasize the good and work out the flaws in the bad. Sachindra went on to talk about how to validate your ideas and how to exhibit them as well. This helps create awareness of your product or service and can be used to market it.
Learning the ropes of being an entrepreneur
Following Sachindra’s speech, Kanishka Weeramunda – Entrepreneur in Residence at Square Hub took to the stage to carry out the rest of the Southern IT-BPM Week 2018. All of the participants were asked to think of a possible business idea and pitch it in front of the audience. The ideas ranged from solving everyday problems such as how to make daily commuting easier, a more streamlined garbage collection approach, an app to motivate people to exercise in order to combat obesity, help those suffering from depression and suicide.
A particularly interesting idea that we saw was a platform to raise awareness of the traffic laws in Sri Lanka. These laws are usually only known to those with a driving license. The rest of the public remain unaware of the rules. As such, the platform, consisting of a web and mobile app would list down all the traffic laws in all three languages.
This would, in turn, raise awareness of the laws. Further, the platform would also cater to junior law students, making court cases available in Sinhala, so that those have difficulty in understanding the case in English, could do so in Sinhala.
Casting votes at the Southern IT-BPM Week 2018
Following the participants making their pitch at Southern IT-BPM Week 2018, a short break ensued. Each member was handed a piece of paper to vote on their favorite idea. Each idea could only get one vote. After the voting was done, the top 14 ideas with the most amount of votes were selected. From there, the 14 people could go and ask the remaining participants if they would like to join their team. The whole thing was reminiscent of a Startup Weekend (except that it was on a weekday).
Some of the notable ideas that were selected were a smart garbage collection system, a personalized trip planner, a web and mobile app to find workers to help out with household repairs. Other notable ideas included were a low-cost security system that alerts users of a change in the environment and even supportive classes for kids.
Learning about the Lean Startup Canvas
Now that the ideas were picked and the teams were formed, it was time to figure out the viability and valuation of the ideas. This is where the Startup Lean canvas came into play. Talking more on this was Mohammed Fawaz – CEO at Global Tutor. We’ve covered what exactly the Startup Lean Canvas is a number of times at past events of this nature. You can check out the video below if you’ve missed them.
Fawaz also spoke about the practicality of ideas and how to succeed with your ideas. Just because you have an idea, that doesn’t mean that people would go for it. Market dynamics can change. So you need to be aware of the current market trends and adapt accordingly, Fawaz explained.
How to get funded 101
Following a hearty lunch at Southern IT-BPM Week 2018, we had Chalinda Abeykoon, CEO of Crowdisland talking about how a startup can attain funding and investments. Chalinda explained that there are various types of startups. These include lifestyle, SME, buyable, corporate, social and scalable. One is not better than the other. Rather, they all serve their own unique purpose.
Now that we know the types of startups, Chalinda’s next explanation was as to why we should launch our own startup. He went on to explain that the reasons for this can be to pursue a dream that you had, to becoming your own boss, or to just become rich faster. Although, in reality, none of these are easily attainable, he added.
Chalinda went on to explain that you should know what you’re getting into when you’re thinking of launching a startup. Obviously, you will need to have a rough idea of how much time and effort you can dedicate to your startup.
In terms of getting investment for your startup, funding is not the causal factor for success. In fact, funding often comes after displaying growth. To raise funds, you need a team, skills, an idea, a market, reach, time, a plan and traction. We heard something similar spoken by Sachindra at Disrupt Asia as well.
Following Chalinda’s session, and empowered by the knowledge that they had gained, the teams set about their sessions with the mentors that they had requested. Each team would have 20 minutes to discuss whatever issues they were having in relation to their startup with their respective mentors. After the 20 minutes were up, the mentors would move on to the next team.
How to create the perfect startup pitch deck
Sharanyan Sharma – Founder/CEO of Extreme SEO was on stage to teach the participants about how to create the ideal startup pitch deck. If you’re unfamiliar with it, a startup pitch deck is a brief presentation that provides investors with an overview of your business. A company’s pitch deck is judged by 3 criteria. They are the validation of the product, how the solution is going to be executed, and how they plan to monetize it.
With regards to pitching your idea and solution, rather than opting for a typical university style presentation, Sharanyan encouraged the participants to go for a story approach. This gives you the opportunity to relate with your investors and them with you, thus creating a more meaningful impact. If you don’t have a working product, at least show screenshots of what your product would look like, to give investors a better understanding of how to interact with the product.
A few lessons in entrepreneurship
Following the sessions were two-panel discussions under the topics of “Startup Journey and Experience” and “From Good to Great”. The first discussion consisted of Vimukthi Liyanage – Director and CEO of Mogo Super, Nuwan Chinthana – Full Stack Developer at Music.lk, and Dinusha Kornkaduwa – Chief Operating Officer Express 418 (Pvt) Ltd.
After giving a brief description about themselves, Vimukthi, Nuwan, and Dinusha shared the challenges that they faced when launching their startups. These involved unforeseen costs, changes in market trends and new entrants. They also spoke about geographical limitations as well.
He explained that being raised in Galle, he also set up his platform there as well. He also had low funds to carry out operations. In comparing now, he said that the sheer amount of resources and solutions are in abundance when compared to when it was back then. Vimukthi shared the journey he had with Mogo from being a small-scale startup, to where they are today. Similarly, Dinusha explained how he was inspired to work on BusBookings.lk, empowering people to reserve seats in long-distance bus journeys.
From Good to Great
The second-panel discussion consisted of Mangala Karunaratne – Founder and CEO of Calcy Technologies, Ruwindhi Peiris – Managing Director at Stax Inc and Jeevan Gnanam – Chairman of SLASSCOM. Similar to the earlier discussion, they all gave a brief description of themselves and their startups.
From there, they went on to talk about how many startups they had invested in. Ruwindhu explained that he had invested in 6 companies, whilst Jeevan had invested in over 20. Mangala had thus far invested in 10, including Calcey. So how did all these investments work out? Well, Mangala and Jeevan both spoke about some of the lessons that they learned when investing in companies. This involved startups failing and even startups being fraudulent in their actions. All in all, it was a learning experience for them all.
Ruwindhu went on to talk about a startup where he was caught up in an emotional attachment of investing in a company. Even though it was not exactly a viable solution, he felt drawn to invest in them. To this Mangala and Jeevan added that the importance is more to the entrepreneur and his views rather than the idea itself. They all agreed that it’s important to know the reason behind why the entrepreneur does what he/she does
With that, the panel discussions at the Southern IT-BPM Week 2018 came to an end. That also signaled the end for Day 01 of the Southern IT-BPM Week 2018 as well. With Harindu Abeygoonaratne of SimCentric Technologies delivering the wind-up and vote of thanks, we packed up our bags and began our journey back to Colombo.